April 2011

Death and Resurrection

In just a few weeks once again we will be celebrating Easter. Easter is the pivotal event for the Christian faith. Other faiths have God or the Gods walking on earth. Other faiths have someone, a prophet or enlightened one, pointing to an ultimate being. It is only Christianity that has God walking around in human form and actually dying and being brought to life.

God in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, being born, living, teaching, healing, dying and rising again.

It is very easy for us as Christians with the safety of thousands of years distance, to talk very glibly about the death and resurrection of Jesus. But it must have been anything but a comfortable, glib experience for the disciples. If you read the New Testament accounts carefully, you'll observe the struggle the disciples had in processing the experience of encountering the risen Christ, (see Matt 28:4-5, 8, 17; Mark 16:5, 8; Luke 24:5, 11-12, 37, 41; John 20:24-28; 21:12). There are two threads of understanding the resurrection evident in the gospel texts – one involves the restoration of Jesus to life, the other is his elevation to a new plane of existence (exaltation or glorification).

The risen Christ ensures that his disciples know it really is him in the flesh – he invites them to touch him (Luke 24:39-40; John 20:20, 27) and eats (Luke 24:41-43) to prove he is not a vision or a ghost. The women in Matthew's account meet him and clasp his feet in worship (Matt 28:9). Yet in Jesus' meeting with Mary (John 20), she is forbidden to touch him (John 20:17), the reason given relating to the second aspect of understanding the resurrection – “I am returning to my Father”.

So, while it is obviously still the same Jesus they knew who has returned to life, something else has happened, and is happening to him. He can appear and disappear at will (Matt 28:9; Luke 24:31, 36; John 20:19, 26), he opens their minds (Luke 24:45) and breathes the Holy Spirit upon them (John 20:22), eventually ascending into the heavens (Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:3-9). This dual perspective, like two sides of a coin, attempts to record an experience unique in human history. How do you describe an experience which moves beyond the capacity of human words to express and human understanding to comprehend?

People in our society sometimes struggle to understand the death and resurrection of Jesus. Well fair enough, the disciples struggled as well. And if we are honest we struggle also, even if we have heard gospel stories a thousand times. The real question is how do we respond? I think that fear and joy, doubt and worship are all understandable – both then and now.

April 2011